OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The downtown streets are still quiet, but behind the scenes business owners are gearing up for the crowds that flock to this seaside summer retreat.

It’s spring in Old Orchard Beach, when the town wakes up from its winter hibernation.

Papered-up windows are stripped and cleaned, the shelves dusted and re-stocked with sweat shirts and beach toys.

At Palace Playland, the rides are cleaned and greased and tested.

Groundskeepers are sprucing up the area around The Pier and in front of restaurants and motels.

And everyone seems optimistic that this summer will be great.

The exchange rate is in business owners’ favor to attract Canadian tourists, and they’re hopeful it will be warm and sunny.

Hotels have been booking vacationers for months now, and the Canadian dollar being equivalent to $1.04 in the United States helps draw tourists from the north.

“It seems like people are booking earlier than in the past,” said Bud Harmon, Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce president. “Probably has something to do with the exchange rate.”

Marc Bourassa, owner of the Kebek 3 Motel on West Grand Avenue, agreed that a strong Canadian dollar helps business.

The 35-room motel is already sold out for at least 10 weeks during the height of summer, Bourassa said. Reservations picked up in January at the motel, which has already opened and won’t close until the end of October.

“It’s looking like a very positive summer business-wise,” Harmon said. “The other thing too is rebound from last summer. We had such a beautiful summer. People hold that in their memories.”

Some early birds have already put out the welcome mat — or in some cases the “Help Wanted” sign — even though peak season is still more than a month away.

Manager Dani Sisson opened up the Galaxy dance club in late April. Stocking up the bar and checking the sound system were the first things on the list, he said, as the sound of Enrique Iglesias’s hit “I Like It” filtered out the doors and onto the street. They have drink specials aimed at tourists looking to save money in a still-difficult economy.

“We feel bad with the economy the way it is right now,” he said, so they offer $2 drinks from 9 to 11 p.m. every night.

Over at Beach Bagel, a small deli that stays open year round, training is under way for the new guys. Food prep will quadruple once Memorial Day hits, said cook Mark Sanborn.

“Once the kids are out of school, it’s non-stop busy through September,” he said. “And we stop doing the crossword every day.”

Crews are cleaning and ensuring safe operations for all the rides at Palace Playland, said part owner Joel Golder. A big change at the amusement park this year is a new gondola Ferris wheel to replace one that is more than 15 years old.

Another new attraction in town is the Raging Tide baseball team, a New England Collegiate Baseball League team. The team will play 21 home games and as many as four postseason games at the new Ballpark during June and July. The Raging Tide was formerly the Lowell All-Americans Baseball Club of Chelmsford, Mass.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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